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Scrutiny
  
My father’s business...
The IIPM Think Tank analyses Indian Railway in ways you cannot imagine: on why a horizontal journey could end up as a vertical one!
18/09/2008

It takes 1 hour and 15 minutes by flight from Barcelona to Madrid while the duration for a train journey for the same by AVE train takes 2 hours 40 minutes. In India, a Kolkata to Delhi flight takes an hour and forty five minutes while the same by the fastest Indian train takes nothing less than 17 hours. That narrates part of the story, the rest follows.

When the Boston Consulting Group had introduced the concept of BCG Matrix consisting of the four types of companies that a group can have (i.e. cash cows, stars, question mark and dogs), never had it thought that the concept of cash cows would be used with so much impunity by a government of a country which has otherwise been loathe to carry on the concept of structural reforms. For long, the Indian Railways (IR) have been nothing but a typical cash cow for the government to propagate a messiah image; and for long, elected members of the Parliament have fought at large to grab this portfolio. The common saying goes that the best way to benchmark the performance of the Railway Minister is find out how many of his community and constituency have made it to Rail department. Nowadays, it’s an unofficial norm and doesn’t even elicit surprise among the media and mass. No wonder that Indian Railways have 14 lakh employees. One wonders if that many are essentially required or if there’s another instance of a company being mentored by so many. Incidentally, the Indian Army has lesser number of personnel.

So, a company that is run by 1.4 million personnel and has a network spanning over 63,000 kilometers, running an estimated 18,000 trains daily to nearly 8,000 stations, should ideally be the lifeline and the most indispensable service provider with an impeccable record to boast about. But is that so in reality? Well, surely, it is indispensable; but not by choice, rather compulsion.
A long time back, when former US President John F. Kennedy had once stated, “It is not our wealth that built our roads, but it is our roads that built our wealth,” he was talking about the essence of good connectivity. By that standard, what Indian Railway had in terms of connectivity, or what the British had left behind, was good enough to change the economic contours of India. Sadly, it didn’t quite work out in the way it was planned. Unless someone can afford to book a ticket for AC compartments, one has be prepared to compromise with self respect while travelling in Indian trains. In non-AC ‘reserved’ compartments, toilets necessarily stink, compartments are overcrowded and food surely unhygienic. The least said about the non-reserved compartments, the better. Animals are perhaps transported with more dignity. The whole objective is to launch more trains and earn brownie points, rusted bridges, vintage tracks notwithstanding. Add to this accidents, blasts and train robberies, which are the norm than an exception here. Railway ministers take pride in not reducing the accident levels to zero but in just making sure that their number (manipulated though) is marginally lesser than that of their immediate predecessor from the opposition. One famed expert put it to us, “In India, while travelling by rail, one is therefore not very sure if a horizontal journey would eventually perhaps end up as a vertical one.”

Populism continues by giving ticket concessions to just about any and everybody, in addition to the employees of Railways who are beyond ticketing per se. And with leakage of revenue due to ticketless travelling a norm than exception, the Indian Railways is an ideal cash cow which is there to be milked by any and everyone, farmers and their ‘fathers’ [who, in fact, claim to own the Railways and all associated firms] included!

By:- Pathikrit Payne
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